Vaccine advice: Hidden camera investigation (CBC Marketplace)

Author: CBC News

(♪♪) Erica: We're in Toronto enlisting an undercover baby to help us with a hidden camera investigation. Looking good. (♪♪) Erica: Okay, it's really baby Matthew's mom Emma who will do the work. Are you ready? I'm all set. Let's go. Okay, are we all good? Yeah, it's going.

Erica: And in Vancouver, we signed up baby Natalie and her mom Katie. The babes are due for their vaccinations, but they're not going to the doctor. Erica: We're sending them to alternative health practitioners And you're not going to believe what these parents are about to hear about vaccines. Erica: From people we trust with our children's health. I think it's irresponsible, I think it's frightening. Erica: Why a shot of confusion could put these kids and yours at risk.

(♪♪) We head to Granville Island in Vancouver, a popular kids hangout. Ask parents to give it a shot. Hi there, do you want to take a marketplace test? How old is your little one? He's 7 months. And talk to us about a health decision they've all had to make: To vaccinate or not. Is it a hard thing to grapple with? I think so, for sure. Absolutely.

Erica: Parents here say it's a tough choice. I think a lot of parents are influenced with the latest magazine covers. Erica: Made tougher when it's not clear who to believe.

Vaccine advice: Hidden camera investigation (CBC Marketplace)

Without a doubt in my mind, I believe vaccinations triggered Evan's autism. Erica: Even celebrities are battling it out. One of the most vulnerable things you can do to a child who doesn't have an immune system is give them a shot. Vaccines are very safe. Erica: Seems everyone's got strong opinions. Roto-virus, Rubella -- We're making the sickest generation of American children in the history of our country. Erica: And they don't hold back. You're antagonizing a medical community that wants to help these kids.

Erica: With so much confusion around vaccines, there is growing concern over the number of people in Canada not getting vaccinated. In some communities, more than 40 per cent don't have all their shots. It's frustrating to say the least. Erica: Shannon MacDonald is a nurse who has seen first hand kids suffering from vaccine preventable diseases. The other thing that we would see more often than I would like is meningococcemia. We'd end up having to amputate fingers and toes and feet just to try and control the infection and sometimes the children didn't make it.

Erica: That prompted MacDonald to start researching why some parents choose not to vaccinate their kids. What she found, troubling advice handed out when parents visited some alternative health practitioners. We asked in a survey whether or not those providers gave advice on vaccines and whether it was positive or negative advice. And we found that they were providing discouraging advice, so they were saying don't use vaccines. Erica: About a third of the time alternative health practitioners swayed parents from vaccinating. Other research has found that, too. So, we start to dig and sure enough, we easily find alternative health websites slamming vaccines. But one group goes further.

Homeopaths: They offer an alternative treatment to vaccination. Hi. Erica: So we book appointments with Homeopaths for moms Katie and Emma.

Erica: Five in all in Toronto and Vancouver. We want to test how vaccines are discussed and what impact that can have on parents. The babies settle in. And it doesn't take long for almost all of the homeopaths to raise concerns about vaccines. Erica: In two different appointments, Emma is told the number of shots kids get today is overwhelming their immune systems.

Erica: We show vaccine expert Shannon MacDonald. Is there any truth to that? It's quite the opposite, actually. So the number of vaccines are more but we've refined vaccines to the point that the actual, shall we say, the germs, the antigens that are put into the child's arm are at a much lower number. Erica: Next, four out of five take a shot at a shot every kid is supposed to get: The MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. Erica: Incredibly, these homeopaths tell Emma and Katie vaccines could cause autism. In one appointment, then another. Vaccine damaged? MacDonald can't believe the autism myth based on a discredited study is alive and well.

That whole study has been completely debunked but it planted the seed of doubt in parents' minds and it's hard to unscare people. Thank you very much. Definitely you always worry about things that your child could acquire or diseases that they could get and parenting now is a lot about fear. Erica: So, back on Granville Island, do messages like the ones we heard at the homeopaths affect other parents' decisions to vaccinate? Want to give it a shot? To find out, we show parents some of the common vaccine myths we've heard. What I'm going do is give you these and -- And ask them to let us know which ones they worry about.

Anything that gives you pause or makes you think twice just stick one of those next to the statement. Getting too many vaccines could overwhelm my child's immune system. Yeah, I'll put one there. I might agree with that. Erica: And when it comes to vaccines causing autism..

I'm going to put this on because I'm not too sure, okay. Erica: Seems myths about vaccination are powerful. When I talk about my research to people of my mother's generation they are shocked that somebody would not choose to vaccinate. They all had siblings or friends who got polio and were either paralyzed or in an iron lung but most people my generation don't even know that. So they just have no concept of what risk they're taking on by avoiding the very small risk of a vaccine. Okay come on in, we're going to go into Dr. Colburn's office. So is she two months old now? Four months.

Erica: In Mississauga, Ontario, Meghan Anderson can't believe parents would choose not to vaccinate either. We're going to start by measuring her head today. Erica: Her daughter, Brielle, is recovering from whooping cough, a disease a vaccine can prevent. This is her first time out since getting ill. This must be Brielle. And this is Brielle. Meghan vividly remembers the night Brielle got sick.

Once we got to the hospital that night it just seemed to progress very rapidly. They started to see her stop breathing and really choking and we had to put an oxygen mask on her, they got her set up with an IV. She would turn blue. There is no way to explain to anyone what that looks like until you've seen it first hand. It's deadly. It's deadly in infants -- it's deadly.

Erica: Babies like Brielle need others to be vaccinated because they're too young to get a shot for whooping cough. What did you know at that point about that disease? I didn't really even grasp the concept of what whooping cough was or meant for young infants until this happened to Brielle. It's ridiculous that it would happen in this day and age. Erica: But almost all of the homeopaths we visit downplay the risk of babies getting sick from other serious diseases. Erica: Even for measles, when we recently saw outbreaks across Canada. What did you think about that? There are outbreaks going on as we speak. That was discussed.

They said, you know, even though she went on to say it's a relatively small number of people and it's quite, you know, localized in one small area. But what happens if I live in that small area? Erica: We heard over and over measles if you get it it's not a big deal. Is that right? No that's not right. Children die of measles, I can't believe somebody would put themselves out there by saying something that is so patently untrue. Erica: Potentially deadly diseases downplayed. Just wait until you hear what our parents are sold next. Coming up.

Did you get any kind of a warning with those? No, this is exactly how they came. Tom: What are your thoughts about shots? Join the conversation about the story on Facebook and Twitter. (♪♪) Hi. Hi, how are you? Erica: We're visiting homeopaths, listening in on the advice they're giving moms Katie and Emma about vaccinating their kids.

So far, what we hear is alarming. Almost all the homeopaths tell our undercover parents vaccination could be dangerous. Only one doesn't raise concerns about risks. And check out what this homeopath is about to show us. A homeopathic alternative they all offer, say is risk-free. And claim is just as effective as vaccination. Erica: Wow, over 90 per cent? And when we asked where they get those stats, one name surfaces every time. We're joined today by Dr.

Isaac Golden, a recognized world leader in Homeopathy. He says there is a safe homeopathic option. Erica: Isaac Golden is an Australian homeopath. A guru when it comes to what he calls homeopathic immunization. The one advantage with the homeopathic option is because it works on different principles it's not an attempt to mimic vaccination.

Erica: Golden lectures on this alternative around the world. So when we learn he's in Toronto, we meet up to ask how it works. It works on a very subtle level, as does homeopathic treatment. Unfortunately, it would take more time than the program has to give a full explanation of that.

Erica: Well, let's give it a shot. To make a homeopathic vaccine alternative, you start with an ingredient similar to what you want to treat. Say, whooping cough. You start with a drop of organism and that may come from sputum of people with clinically diagnosed whooping cough.

Erica: Then, dilute it over and over, giving it a good shake each time, until the remedies are often so diluted you'd need to take a pill larger than the earth to get a single atom of active ingredient. But homeopaths say that's okay. What's important is the memory of the ingredient that's transferred to the water, a feat that's never been scientifically proven. Even Golden admits it sounds far fetched. So all I'm asking is to put aside that barrier in your mind and not be stuck on whether you can understand how it works but look at the evidence of whether it does work.

Erica: Evidence he says there is plenty of. No clinical trials, but... Other research and his own. My job, I see it, is to share the data with the world so that people who are really genuinely concerned about this topic can see what evidence there is. Erica: And now, Golden is about to share that evidence with homeopaths in a full-day seminar at a rented room at the University of Toronto. To get an expert's take on the evidence presented, we call in Jason Busse.

He's a prof of research methodology at McMaster University. Jason, hi. Jason.

Erica: Golden's agreed to let him into the seminar, but not our cameras. [indistinct lecturing] After the session wraps, we get Busse's take. Homeopaths themselves admit there is no active ingredient in these pills.

They say it's based on energy, the memory of an active ingredient. I think that if extraordinary claims are going to be made about a treatment, it needs to be accompanied by extraordinary evidence. And that evidence is not here. Erica: Since there is no good proof the alternative works, we ask Golden if he's putting kids at risk. When people say that promoting or giving parents an option to immunize homeopathically is irresponsible because of lack of evidence, then my answer is very simple. Look at the evidence. I've reviewed the studies that Isaac Golden is presenting in his lectures.

I have reviewed his graduate thesis where he presents evidence that he's acquired. The quality of that evidence is low. What effect could what the homeopaths heard at this seminar have on parents and their kids? If they continue to receive information encouraging them to pursue options other than conventional vaccination, it's conceivable we could see those group immunization rates decline even further. So, could kids get sick? Yes. Erica: Which is why Health Canada requires labels on homeopathic vaccine alternatives, saying... Erica: So do the homeopathic vaccine alternatives offered to us have that label? We asked Katie and Emma to pick some up at two appointments.

What did you get? I got whooping cough. Okay, and it's some pills inside. Do you want to see them? Erica: But when we check them out... Did you get any kind of a warning with those? No, this is exactly how they came. Erica: No label here. So these are for measles. Do you see a warning on your package? Nope, I do not. Just the instructions.

Erica: Or here. We contact Health Canada about our findings but they say nothing is amiss. If a homeopath mixes their own vaccine alternative, they don't require a warning label. Go figure. As for the fear mongering and misinformation, we contact all of the homeopaths we visit and several associations.

No one will talk on camera. And the homeopaths say they just provide parents with information. That information didn't convince Katie, but she worries about other parents who visit homeopaths. All of the women that we spoke to had many clients. Many children who had been vaccinated with those homeopathic vaccines.

It's worrying because I don't think those children are going to be protected. Erica: Emma's not sold, either. I think its irresponsible for them to instil fear in parents and for that to be a tactic for them to get you to use their product. Erica: Both moms say they'll follow their doctors advice. So Natalie... [coos] and Matthew..

Will be getting all their shots. (♪♪).

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